Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Spaceport Prepares Grand Opening

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Spaceport Prepares Grand Opening

Article excerpt

Spaceport Oklahoma, the onramp for the highway to outer space, is expected to open in about a month.

The port's inauguration is tentatively set for March 23 or 24, if Mother Nature cooperates.

So far, no big ceremony is set for that date, primarily because of the vagaries of Oklahoma's weather this time of year. First activity could be on either day, but if the weather and the wind prohibit liftoff, it will be delayed until the weekend of April 6 and 7.

The first vehicle to be launched from the port near Burns Flat will travel through the stratosphere, near the edges of space.

Just as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration had to take tentative steps before sending up the first man, so too does Oklahoma's space agency.

Don't line the highways, though, expecting to see the traditional huge rocket spit and belch smoke, fire and ice as it lifts off with an ear-splitting, thunderous roar.

Instead, this launch will be of a kinder, gentler type.

A huge platform, designed to launch rockets into space from an altitude of 100,000 feet, will be lifted from the pad with helium- filled balloons.

"Helium is an inert gas that is the most nonflammable gas in the world," said Joan Horvath, president of Takeoff Technologies, which is arranging the initial flight. "It's perfectly safe. There's absolutely no danger of the rocket exhaust igniting the gas."

The system, a product of JP Aerospace, is said to be a less- expensive way to put smaller payloads into orbit. When a company wants to put a small object into space, the cost of a traditional launch is virtually the same as with a heavier payload.

But, with the J.P. Aerospace method, Horvath said, the cost is much lower.

JP Aerospace plans to have its first full launch, with a payload going into space, later this year in Nevada.

"They are having some difficulties with regulations from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), so they probably will have others from here (Burns Flat)," Horvath said.

There's not much chance for JP Aerospace to move its major operations to Oklahoma, but some of the launch activities could be sent here.

Horvath's company serves as a consultancy for space-related companies, helping to arrange financing, clear regulations and find suitable launch facilities.

Even though nothing is set to go into space, next month's inaugural launch from the former Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base will have a payload.

The platform will carry 500 paper airplanes made by middle- school students across Oklahoma.

"When we get to altitude, which is the edge of the darkness of space, we will release all the paper airplanes in a sort of meteorological experiment," Horvath said. "Each of the paper airplanes will have instructions on them, asking whoever finds them to e-mail us, giving the location and date of the find.

"This way students can keep track of where their airplane was found and see just how the winds scatter things at higher altitudes."

Next month's launch is just the beginning of space flight in western Oklahoma.

"This is really exciting," said Donna Shirley, board member of the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority, OU professor and former scientist for Jet Propulsion Laboratories. …

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